Sunday, February 22, 2015

You Know You're Screwed When They Start Bringing You Casseroles

What I'm dealing with right now is pretty much what I've been dealing with for the last year and a half or so.

*Changes in my job that should be exciting and energizing, except that the increased focus on evaluating teachers based on standardized test scores means that my love of teaching the "hard" kids is affecting my job performance ratings, which stresses me out and takes my focus off mastering the new developments and curriculum I should be working on.

*One kid who loves me to pieces and can't go to sleep unless I'm home in the evening, and who has trouble giving me personal space when we're both in the same room.

*One kid who struggles mightily with rules, friendship, reading, remembering, and sitting.  Who went from ELD to IEP to BED classroom.  Whose moods are unpredictable and for whom various medications seem to have no effect on.

*One husband who is severely depressed, which means
  1. I worry about his well-being.
  2. He spends a lot of time in bed and/or hiding behind screens, leaving a lot of parenting and general running of the house to me even though I am the sole breadwinner of the family.
  3. He needs my time and attention as much as the kids do.
He has also developed a serious noise sensitivity issue meaning our kids' normal voices sound like screaming to him, and their noisy voices make him either hide in the room or make them go outside to play.  Basically, he spends a lot of time either avoiding or scolding the kids, and very little time having positive interactions with them.

He feels so crappy about all of this that he has trouble believing I would actually care about him.  He feels worthless and full of despair.  So much so that last weekend I took him up to the hospital and told them I was concerned for his safety.  Now he is in an outpatient psychiatric program for the next month.  Being the eternal optimist that I am, I am hopeful now he will get the help he needs to make the changes that will improve his life.

But really, other than the fact that the Winemaker is at this program during the day while they kids are at school, our situation looks and feels very much like it has for a long time now.

And yet, in the past week...
My "work spouse" brought us a casserole and salad.
My mother-in-law has babysat the two days our son was out of school so the WM could still go to his class.
My sister came by the other day with food for two meals plus snacks, had a picnic lunch with me and the kids, and then did my dishes.
Another friend brought us homemade cinnamon rolls and strawberries this morning and sat and talked with me over coffee. 
My other two sisters have called to check in repeatedly.

And it is helpful.  Getting the jumpstart on my kitchen spiraled into me actually vacuuming the damn floor for the first time since removing the Christmas tree (which, granted, was a long time after Christmas).  Having food brought in helps not only in the basic "yay, food" sense, but also takes off some mental pressure.  Having people come to my house, not judge its state, and sit and chat with me makes me realize how hard it is for me to socialize right now, with my family needing me so much. 

We are getting all this support right now because we are "having a crisis."  Yet actually, I think we're in a more hopeful place than we've been in a long time.  Seeing our life through others' eyes makes me realize that we've been living, not having, a crisis for awhile now.   No wonder I sleep too much, eat too much, and lose my shit too often.  No wonder I'm not able to put enough energy into my classroom  in order to do the job I think I should be doing.  No wonder my house is a mess, my kids are glued to screens, and I am incapable of reading anything besides YA fantasy.  People are bringing me casseroles, and I'm all, "But this is just how my life is.  Why do I get food just because we're trying to do something about it now?" 

Or maybe the question is, "Why the hell didn't I ask for help before?"

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Well, this is embarrassing.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: prep lessons for the next day.

What I do: fall asleep in my kid's bed, wake up groggy at 11:30 pm, and stumble into my own bed.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Have an elegantly sophisticated glass of red wine.

What I do:  Make two chocolate mug cakes, one for me and one for my husband.  Eat one.  Eat the other one.  Hide the evidence.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed:  Read.

What I do: Circle an endless loop of Facebook, email, and Dumpaday humor sites.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Meditate and do yoga.

What I do:  Watch "Continuum" on Netflix.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Write a blog post.

What I do:  Read blog posts.

What I mean to do after the kids go to bed: Reclaim my own time.

What I do: Fritter away the only unstructured part of my day.

This "blog post" was written as part of Finish the Sentence Friday.  The prompt was "When the kids go to bed, I..."  Link up here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Oak has had some really bad days lately.  When I say "lately," I mean for the past six months.  Since school started, really, which is why he is now at a different school with a behavior classroom, so when he freaks the freak out, the adults can handle it, instead of it throwing off an entire classroom.

I have had some really bad evenings during this time period.  Like, he freaks the freak out, and my reptile brain goes, "Oh yeah?  You think THAT'S nuts?  I'll show you NUTS, buddy!"  And then we are both freaking out, and Linden goes into super-charmer mode, and the Winemaker hides in the bedroom, unless things get really wonky, in which case he emerges and takes over, and I run outside and cry and hate myself.

In other words, my family is highly disfunctional right now.  And our social worker is due for a visit.  Yay.

Two nights ago we had a bedtime freakout.  Yesterday he did okay at school, and continued to do okay through the evening.  Today he did FANTASTIC at school, and is very cheerful and cooperative and interactive now that we're all home.

I was thinking to myself, "It's the calm before the storm," and "It's not like this will last," and super positive and helpful things like that, because I am just that good at therapeutic parenting.  But then it hit me--

If he is out of control 50% of the time--which is a really high estimate, honestly--but in control 50% of the time, it is just as realistic to say, "Oh, he'll bounce back from this," or "This is just a hard day," when things are going crappy.  Instead of nay-saying the positive times, I can work instead to not let the negative times become what I define as normal.

Take THAT, reptile brain!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Faux poem. Fauxetry?

I just came across this poem while cleaning out computer files. I wrote this about four years ago, when I had to have an ultrasound to determine what was going on with this month-long period I was having. I've never been pregnant, so it was my first ultrasound, and we were early in our adoption journey, so I was not entirely sure I'd ever even be a mom. (It turned out to be just a peri-menopausal anomaly.) I'm no poet, because whenever I try to write poetry, I find myself writing prose with weird line breaks instead. But for the same reason I felt compelled to attempt this poem, I kind of like the result. Here it is. 

When I first realized I was an adult,
I was so pleased.
Walking down a city street in a strange land,
carrying a sack of groceries
purchased with money I’d earned myself.
A few years later, another sign.
The twelve-year old looks up trustingly from her desk
and asks me to feel her forehead
to see if she has a fever.  
Becoming an adult
is what you spend childhood preparing for
(especially those of us
who spend our adolescence rolling our eyes at our classmates’ antics).

But now it seems that time
insists on carrying me along
in her relentless march.

My mother gone
too soon for her, with projects started in her studio
seeds ordered for the garden
talk of a camping trip next summer.
Too soon for me as well.
I still need her guidance.
“How do I do this?”
I want to ask
as I lay on the table while the technician
rolls a wand over my belly.
She peers at the screen, not looking for a telltale tail
but just to determine if this unending ellipses of a period
is merely my body giving up on fertility in yet another way
or the sign of something more malignant.
This ultrasound won’t become my profile picture
won’t be posted on my fridge
at best, it signals hormone therapy and hot flashes.
“How do I do this?”
I want to ask Mom,
veteran of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer.
But when I get home, feeling forlorn,
there’s no Mom to call.

So I find comfort in some chocolate
and the nook of my husband’s neck.
Younger than me, but feeling his age as well.
Twelve years without his father,
and the young bucks during harvest season reaching over to help with the heavy loads.
How do we do this?  It keeps getting harder.
And our foundations have disappeared.

So we do what they did.

We lean on each other.  We keep going.  

Monday, November 17, 2014


I hear so many good things about meditation.  So!  Many!  And let's face it, I need all the help I can get.  There is enough stress in my life that I've gained fifty pounds in a year and can hardly turn my neck for all the tension I hold there.   I have been trying to meditate somewhat regularly (i.e. a couple times a week, except for when it's a couple times a month, or three days in a row).

I found an awesome website called that offers free guided meditation in 2, 5, 10, and 20 minute intervals.  I can get the kids to sit with me for the 2 minute one, and on good days they will ask if we can do a 5 minute one.  It is easier to meditate when you are calm than when you are stressed.  (Is that irony?  Ever since people started mocking Alanis Morissette I've been nervous about using that term in public.)  A five minute meditation session usually consists of about 4 minutes of my thoughts racing all over the place and one minute of dozing off.  I've also read that going to sleep during meditation is a sign that you are hiding from the work you need to do.  I suspect it's more that I'm tired, but there's no reason why it couldn't be both.

But it still feels good.  It makes me feel like I'm doing something to take care of myself, what Beth Woolsey calls "radical acts of self care."    That alone is worth the price.  (Which is free.  I'm sorry, I can't tell if I'm being funny or just incomprehensible.)

How have you taken care of yourself lately?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Like My Father

Years ago I saw a sitcom where one woman is accused of acting like her father.  "Oh my God," she gasps.  "I've been trying so hard to not become my mother--I never saw THAT coming!"  I laughed with recognition.

My words, my moods, my mannerisms--all my mom's.  Even the ways I'm not like her are defined by her.  "Mom would never let her kitchen get this messy."  And yet, my dad seeps through in odd moments.  My family sits down to eat dinner; I pop back up to turn out the lights in other rooms, and remember my dad doing the same.  I walk along slick pavement, and despite the cold, pull my hands out of my pockets "in case I fall," responding to a lifetime of warnings.  As a parent, I finally understand why sucking on the last bit of drink through my straw, or sniffing repeatedly without ever going to get a kleenex both drove him nuts.

My dad gave me many gifts. My love of mountains.  An appreciation for late afternoon's "sweet light."  Wanderlust.  He was a great model for how to maintain friendships and how to enjoy life's simple pleasure.  When I turned 18 he told me, "Vote for any party you want, but always support schools, parks, and libraries."  His quirks and talents and lessons are woven into my life.

As I started to learn about the concept of white privilege during the past few years, I've come to realize that I already was aware that it existed, because my suburban, middle-class white dad pointed it out to me throughout my life.  I knew his friend Nick didn't like to come visit us because in our neighborhood, he was likely to get pulled over for Driving While Black.  I knew that one of the only times my dad ventured from photography into writing was when his friend Max was mistaken for "a Jap" in a small Idaho town where they were covering a mining disaster, and was told to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in a river.  (This was a good 15 years after WWII ended, and Max is actually Hispanic.)  My dad was outraged, and wanted to shine as much publicity on the event as possible.  He told me about attending high school in the late 1940s, and how the black kids came in the back door.  At the time, he figured everyone went in the doorway closer to their own neighborhood, but a few years out of high school, with a few years in the city newsroom under his belt, he wised up, and was ashamed of his complacent naivety.

"You know," I told him a few years ago, "some people think we don't have any more racism, because we elected Obama."

He sputtered for a moment.  "People are idiots!" he finally got out.  "Just because it's not a problem for THEM, they think it's not a problem."  Which is probably the most succinct definition of privilege there is.

Another time he sighed, "If I hate bigots, does that make me a bigot?"

He was a product of his time and place, as we all are.  He had his prejudices and blind spots, as we all do.  He strove to see people clearly, to value others as they are, and to not mistake his own experience for universal experience.   When he died last February, he left behind literally thousands of top notch photographs.  His more important legacy is what he taught his girls about being human.

With all four daughters at his 80th birthday 2012

Dancing with my mom at a friend's wedding ca. 2002

On a mountain climb ca: 1950

At an artist's reception 2012

Supervising my niece ca 1995

On a photography outing 2011

Us on top of Mt. Hood 1984

Dancing together at my friend's wedding 1990
This has been a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  The prompt was "The best advice my dad ever gave me..."  Link up here!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

My Very Favorite Books

I spent much of this rainy Sunday scrolling through Goodreads, when I should have been doing housework, grading, or possibly even interacting with my children.   I was checking out the "best books ever" list and trying to make my top 100 choices.  I was consciously trying to include different types of favorites--classics, beloved children's books, the best book in my favorite mystery series, books that made me think, etc.   One thing I noticed is that some of the titles I chose recalled specific people and places for me--my best friend and I read Accidental Tourist aloud to each other as we sunbathed one summer in high school, I read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting sitting in a Danish windowsill during my college semester abroad, I listened to a recording of The Hero and the Crown lying on my bed for a few days in August while I recovered from a minor bike accident.  Much like the way a wine you drink when you are having a delightful experience at a winery tastes better than a wine you pick up at the grocery store, some books are memorable for more than the story itself, but also for what the story represents in my personal history.

There is, of course, no agreed upon list of 100 best books, and no way to even choose which books are my 100 favorite.  The top 50 or so would probably make the list on any day, but the others could be pushed off if I were in a different mood.  Still, if I had to commit to only reading from the list I developed today, I could live with that.

My top 10:

1. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I thought I hated Steinbeck, and indeed, most mid-century male American writers.  The year I spent living in Riga, I got membership at a small English language library.  Pickings were slim, and I read a number of books I wouldn't have otherwise.  Two pages in, and I was eating crow.  This book is magnificent.

2. The River Why by David James Duncan
While I've only read The Grapes of Wrath once, this book I've read easily a dozen times.   It was definitely a case of the right book at the right time--I read it as a young adult, and it is a fantastic coming of age novel.  It starts out humorous and moves into philosophy without leaving any readers behind.  It's also set in familiar places.  I have loaned this book out repeatedly, and my beloved 25 year old copy shows how many times its been read.  I haven't actually re-read it in the past ten years or so--I'm almost afraid to.  The Brothers K, by the same author, also rocked my world.

You know why I love this book.  My favorite story about it is a friend of mine whose daughter read it in 7th grade, 10th grade, and then again in college.  "I've always loved this book," she told her mom, "but I wish they'd let us read the full version in middle and high school instead of the abridged version."  Her mom explained that she had actually read the full version all three times, but was bringing so much more to the story now that it seemed richer to her.

4. Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Oh, Tess.  This was one of my first classics.  Far From the Madding Crowd has a happier ending, but sometimes heartbreak is the way to go.  It is, of course, frustrating to read this as a modern woman, but if you accept that people do things differently in the past, it has that sense of tragic inevitability.

And again I go for the local author.  Le Guin has written so many books that I love, but the audacity of imagining a world in which gender fluctuates at each "time of the month" makes this one brilliant.  Plus, it's ends up being swooningly romantic, as two tough and private people let down the walls between them.

I can't believe more people don't know this book, and it's sunnier prequel, The Good Master.  War, anti-Semitism, courage, growing up--plus gorgeous illustrations and a look at life on the Hungarian plains.  Kate and Jansci learn more than children should have to, but luckily have wise and loving parents to help them process the horrors of WWI.  

So, Dickens is not particularly subtle, and this is probably not his greatest work from an artistic standpoint--or maybe it is, how the hell would I know?  But after being introduced to Oliver Twist around age 10, this was the next Dickens I encountered, the summer after my freshman year at high school.  We had studied the French Revolution, and here was this incredible novel about--get this!--the French Revolution!   I am a complete sucker for learning history from novels, and the book just blew me away.  

Sci Fi about a woman in a dystopian society who falls in love with a golem.  In other words, I can't actually explain this book, but I loved it.  Incredibly moving and fierce.  

More feminist sci fi, yay!  It's occurring to me that many of these books I read between the ages of 18-25.  I guess I was old enough to really GET serious literature, and young enough to be BLOWN AWAY by encountering it.  

Okay, so my 10th spot was a complete toss-up between One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Anne of Green Gables, Far From the Madding Crowd, Angle of Repose, Snow Falling on Cedars, Martian Chronicles, City of Thieves, Blueberries for Sal, The Monkey Wrench Gang, etc. etc.  But this book contains a scene where the protagonist is learning about the atrocities that caused another character to flee Nicaragua in the 1980's.  She says something like, "I wouldn't want to live in a world where those things happen," and he replies "But you already do." It gave me chills then, and it gives me chills now.  Just because it's not happening TO ME doesn't mean it's not my problem.  

If you like the list, let me know--I can do top 10s in categories too...